How does it work?
There are eight ‘legs’, or areas of teaching involved:
- Yama (self restraint),
- Niyama (devotion to study),
- asana (physical poses),
- Pranayama (breathing),
- Pratyahara (reducing sensory stimulation),
- Dharana (concentration),
- Dhyana (meditation) and
- Samadhi (the final state of profound concentration and openness).
The aim of Raja yoga is to reach Samadhi and each of the first seven stages can be seen as vital stepping stones along the way. Unlike a your typical yoga class at the gym, where you can take it easy and go with the flow, to make progress in Raja yoga you need to engage with the teachings intellectually and really throw yourself in at the philosophical deep end.
Each class will be different, especially since different gurus will lay varying amounts of emphasis on the various elements of the meditation – the teachings are sophisticated and have been developed and interpreted over the years by many different practitioners.
A typical class might involve lectures, guided meditation, talks or teaching and practising the basic application of the component ‘legs’. Unlike a more physical yoga class, Raja yoga is not as focussed on gaining balance and flexibility – there is an element of bringing your mind and body into tune with the asanas, but this is a much more spiritual and less physical approach than the kind of yoga you associate with pink mats and jogging bottoms.
Is it for me?
Although, in theory, Raja yoga can benefit everyone, there are some practitioners who warn against meditating too deeply (particularly without the guidance of a guru) too soon. Reaching the state of Samadhi is often described as an exhausting process, emotionally, mentally and, in some cases, physically.
If you’re often a bundle of nerves, prey to a constant flurry of worries and emotions, Raja yoga could help you to disassociate those emotional reactions and to gain more control over your thoughts. The theory, ironically, is that by becoming more open you can actually become less vulnerable and less prone to emotional suffering.